Cabarrus County Commissioners look to reverse recent budget cuts

After the Dec. 1 swearing-in ceremony for three new Cabarrus County commissioners, the board began reversing budget cuts made in June.

The cuts were proposed by outgoing commissioner Jason Oesterreich and approved in a 3-2 vote by the three commissioners who lost their seats in November.

During the board’s work session, commissioners asked the county staff for details on how to restore library hours and staff, to boost funding for the Cabarrus Economic Development Corp.; and to bring back the county’s employee health and wellness program.

They also asked how restoring those cuts would affect the budget, which started July 1.

The new board members are top vote-getter Diane Honeycutt, former commissioner Grace Mynatt and former school board chairman Lynn Shue. They said they will join Commissioners Liz Poole and Steve Morris, who voted against the cuts, in working to undo the decision.

When the board adopted the budget in June, an additional $3 million was cut from Cabarrus County Manager Mike Downs’ proposed $209.7 million budget for fiscal 2014-15.

The cuts eliminated several positions, including a deputy county manager, park and library employees, members of the property revaluation team, a custodian and several landfill operators.

The adopted budget also delayed staffing the Cabarrus County Public Library’s Midland branch and halted development of Wallace Park in Midland.

Cuts to the library hours and staff were made five years ago during the recession, Poole said. But since the economy has improved, it’s time to increase library hours and staff.

“We want to at least get them open five days per week during this fiscal year and work for six days per week during the next fiscal year, at all libraries,” Poole said. “Part-time and full-time positions will be at the discretion of staff, but it is long past time for us to get our libraries open to our community.”

Mynatt agreed, then pushed for the county to fund economic development fully for the rest of this fiscal year. The budget cut roughly $330,000 from EDC funding.

Mynatt also asked staff to research options for getting the Wallace Park project moving forward.

“Voters were weary of the dissension from and dominance by one member of the board,” Mynatt said of the May primaries.

“... They wanted representatives who, through having served in other offices or civic leadership roles, gave them assurance that the climate of distrust and tension would end.”

While the county’s final audit isn’t in yet, Shue said, he expects there could be as much as $5 million that wasn’t used from last year’s budget.

During a brief speech after getting sworn in, Honeycutt said it’s time for the board to come together and work for the good of the community.

“And, hopefully, that can be done professionally and respectfully,” she said.

Kristel Swayze, 39, a Kannapolis native, is a supporter of new commissioners. She attended the ceremony.

“This is going to pull our community back together,” she said. “I grew up in this community … and when I left (for college) I said I’d never come back.

“But now I can’t imagine ever moving away, and it’s because of a lot hard work by elected officials, employees, county agencies and businesses.

“We are a growing community,” she said. “… We need to be able to have businesses, we need to have schools, we need to have infrastructure and, unfortunately, the county commissioners, as it stood, were not willing to make it a better community.”

Auto dealer executive Cyndie Mynatt, Grace Mynatt’s daughter, said the new board has the challenge of dealing with explosive growth.

“Moving forward, I think we have five good business heads, and we’re just poised to grow,” she said. “New companies are coming in, and they’re noticing us and… the economic development community.

“They talk, and they know we’ve had a changing of the guard, and they’ll look upon that favorably.”

Jim Ramseur, who has served on Concord City Council for nearly 20 years, said this was first time he could remember where the board shares the same goals as the city council.

“We all love our county, and we all love our city, and I look forward to working with people who are willing to cooperate with no drama,” he said.